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The Essence of the Job
by Darrell Whitney


"Don't take this personally, Garn, but I'm really starting to wonder why I come here," groused Alys Brangwin.

The bartender at the Hunter's Guild tavern didn't take it personally. He, too, had seen Joss Howland come in the door.

"Alys, babe!" Joss bellowed as soon as he caught sight of the Guild's most famous hunter. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and handsome, a rugged specimen of masculine beauty. He considered himself Heaven's gift to women, and this was probably true for the sort of woman who says, "I like 'em big and dumb!"

Alys had thus far been unable to convince him that she was not one of that sort. It was too bad, she thought, that they couldn't use his utterly impervious self-esteem for armor plating.

"I am not your 'babe,' Joss. I would rather have my eyelids nibbled off by sand newts."

Joss laughed. Apparently he thought she'd been kidding.

"Well, you'll be changing your tune when I tell you about my latest successful Guild job."

"You found Mrs. Terence's dog?"

"I'm talking about a real job, the kind of thing worthy of a hunter!"

"Forgot to check the shortcake shop, didn't you?"

"The baker brought her home, so the dog was safe, and Mrs. Terence didn't have to pay a fee, so can we just move on?" The words tumbled out one over the other in pell-mell fashion. "I have a story of derring-do! I was the hero, fighting off a horde of bandits to protect a merchant's hand-cart. We were attacked eight separate times between Piata and Aiedo, but each time I drove off the enemy gangs, so we arrived safe and sound at the market!"

"I thought you were in Piata for a crawler hunt."

"I was; I picked up this job while I was there. A top hunter like myself can't let opportunity--"

"Howland!"

The shout was like a thunderbolt. Every conversation in the bar died at once, and nineteen heads swiveled towards the door. The petite, dark-haired Guild secretary stood framed in the arch, and her expression made eighteen people very glad she wasn't talking to them. She held up a sheet of paper.

"I just received a letter transmission from Motavia Academy, Howland!" she snapped while stalking towards him. "Do you care to explain what a Guild hunter was doing, helping a thief fight off the town guard--repeatedly!--while he brought stolen archaeological treasures here to fence?"

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